NFL Playoffs – Super Bowl XLVII

Shinichi Inoue, Assistant Sports Editor

Baltimore Ravens (AFC South Champion)
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (Regular Season: 54-26, Postseason 8-4)

How They Got Here:
Regular Season Record: 10-6
AFC Wild-Card Round: Defeated Indianapolis Colts, 24-9
AFC Divisional Round: Defeated Denver Broncos, 38-35
AFC Conference Round: Defeated New England Patriots, 28-13

Super Bowl History – (1-0, Super Bowl XXXV)

Offense: Joe Flacco has finally proven he’s not shy when the spotlight is on. The quarterback guided the Ravens to victory against the heavily favored Tom Brady and New England Patriots. After working with a new offensive coordinator, Flacco has found renewed confidence. A victory on Sunday will cement his legacy in Baltimore, before hitting the free-agent market this offseason. The 49ers will have their hands full containing Torrey Smith. 49er’s Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown will have to keep Smith at bay, or else they could be looking at a long night with big plays from the Ravens’ deep-passing offense.

Defense: The Ravens defense ranks at 23 overall. The run defense was excellent, as the fourth-best unit in the league. Their pass rush was ranked 25, though, and the pass coverage was the second worst in the NFL. Even so, in the playoff, Baltimore shut down two future first-ballot Hall of Famers in Payton Manning (Denver Broncos) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots). Running a 3-4 defense, the Ravens have their outside linebackers ready to blitz and cornerbacks matched up tightly against the receivers. The 49ers will have to make their own separations against the Ravens defense.

3 Players to Watch For:
Joe Flacco, Quarterback – Joe Flacco is getting more confident with each game and is close to bringing home a Super Bowl back to Baltimore for the first time in 12 years. Flacco kept building on this playoff performance and has yet to throw a postseason interception. He will have a tough time against safety Dashon Goldson, who leads the 49ers with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Flacco needs to avoid Goldson and minimize any turnovers or bad throws. If he fails to do so, the Ravens are in for a difficult time to get their offense going.

Ray Lewis, Linebacker – Lewis will be playing his last NFL game, no matter the outcome, and you can expect the 17-year veteran to play one of the more emotional games of his career. We all know this is Lewis’s last ride, and he is certainly going to have a major impact on the game. It will come down to how the 49ers offense reacts against Lewis. With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback and a combination of running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Ray Lewis will have to show what he’s got left in the tank.

Ray Rice, Running back – Rice tallied 1621 total yards on the year, and has wreaked havoc against opposing defenses throughout the regular season. In the playoffs, it’s been pretty much the same, as he’s gone for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games. Rice will be matched up against inside linebacker Navorro Bowman. While Bowman has incredible speed and athletic, containing a talented and versatile running back like Ray Rice will be extremely difficult.

San Francisco 49ers (NFC West Champion)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (Regular Season: 24-7-1, Postseason 3-1)

How They Got Here:
Regular Season Record: 11-4-1
NFC Divisional Round: Defeated Green Bay Packers, 45-31
NFC Conference Round: Defeated Atlanta Falcons 28-24

Super Bowl History – (5-0, Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, and XXIX)

Offense: Now “Kaepernick-ing” is finally a thing, and the second-year quarterback has embraced his role in the 49er’ offense. While many may say Kaepernick’s inexperience could be a downfall, he has taken out Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. The 49ers’ quarterback will have to watch out for Ed Reed, who has helped shut down Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the past two games. Gore is as consistent as they come – in the last seven season, he has topped 1000 rushing yards six times. San Francisco will rely upon their running game to be the difference maker. Throughout the playoff, 49ers averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored seven rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver LaMichael James has emerged down the stretch as a threat on offense, especially against the Falcons.

Defense: The 49ers defensive line is more about holding the point of attack to overwhelm the offense with the linebackers. Despite playing with a partially-torn triceps tendon, Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith will find a way to keep the focus of the Ravens offensive line. San Francisco’s four linebackers (Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks) are all Pro Bowlers. Aldon Smith leads the team in sacks with a whopping 19.5 on the season. He has found ways to get to the opposing quarterback every week. Reaching Joe Flacco before he can throw the deep ball will be important in this game.

3 Players to Watch For:
Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback – So far this postseason, Kaepernick has burned through any defensive gameplays tossed at him; just ask Green Bay and Atlanta. He left a trail of flames against the Green Bay Packers as he ran all over them, recording 181 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns – breaking NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Against the Atlanta Falcons, he completed 16 of his 21 attempts for 233 yards, averaging 11 yards per pass, and pushed the 49ers back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. A major performance in Super Bowl XLVII may bring back some memories of Steve Young.

Vernon Davis, Tight End – Which Vernon Davis will show up to Super Bowl XLVII? The Davis who caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game or the tight end who caught just four catches for 86 yards and no touchdowns in four previous outing? The 49ers will need Davis back in his prime as Kaepernick will rely on him as a safety valve in tight situations.

Frank Gore, Running Back – When you have a running back who rushed for 1000 plus yards for six seasons out of the last seven seasons, you have a great running game. Gore’s spotlight has taken a backseat to Kaepernick’s rise. The Inconvenient Truth has rushed 1214 yards and recorded eight touchdowns during the regular season.

Prediction: 49ers 31 – Ravens 28